When I think about Paganism, the first thing that comes to my mind is reverence for Nature–for the physical Earth. For Life, here and now.

And I think that’s true of a lot of theistic Pagans, too.

For Pagans–theists and Atheopagans alike–direct access to the Sacred* is a core aspect of our spiritual experience. We need no intermediaries–unlike, say, the Abrahamic monotheisms, where the sacred rites must be performed by a trained man (usually) who serves as an intercessionary between their god and ordinary humans.

In Paganism, on the other hand, subjective personal “gnosis” is often presented by theists as evidence of their gods’ reality.

It seems to me that this presents a problem with the idea of Pagan priesthood. What, exactly, is the point of a priest/ess if everyone has their own direct pipeline to the divine, or the Sacred?

I know that for many theist Pagans, there is a belief that they have been “selected” by one or more god/desses, and are thus priesthood of them. But that seems to me to be more of a claim of a special relationship than of being a conduit or intercessionary. Or maybe a declaration that the person is a catalyst, an organizer of rites to honor that particular god/dess. Certainly it seems to be bound up in the concept of personal identity for many Pagans.

I could be wrong. I’m not a theist and I don’t live in their worldview.

As an Atheopagan, though, I go farther still. it isn’t just priest/esses that are unnecessary intermediaries between the actual Sacred and the humans who seek it. It is gods themselves, the anthropomorphized impressions of the character of the Sacred.

But not for us.

Give me the lightning, not a god of lightning. Give me the sunrise, and not the goddess thereof.

I believe in literally NO intermediaries between the direct revelation of the Sacred and the individual human. You don’t need priest/esses for it, and you don’t need gods for it, either. However incomprehensible they may be, I would rather be baffled by the Universe’s wonders than reassured by a human-created mask someone placed on them to make them more relatable.

But…um, ahem: Atheopaganism has ordained clerics.

So what’s up with that?

In my view, being an Atheopagan cleric isn’t an honorific, nor an identity: it’s a function. It is somewhat equivalent to being someone who organizes an outing for a group going out on the town, and then serves as their designated driver: clerics have agreed to do the logistics and provide a support service to help their communities. Our clerics help people to celebrate the great moments in their lives, to be happier, kinder and better connected to the reality of the Sacred Earth.

It’s not a status elevation; we are all equal, we humans (and that’s why “cleric” isn’t capitalized). It’s more like a merit badge in scouting: it signifies that you have adopted certain values and learned certain skills, and you’re willing to do some work in community service.

So if you’re new to Paganism and confronted with someone who says they are a priest/ess…or even a “high” priest/ess…just know that–whatever they may think of themselves–this mostly means organizing and administrative duties, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to go through them to have an experience of the Sacred.

Which is, after all, all around us.

All the time.

*Not the same thing as the divine.

Paganism and Transgression: Some Questions

From Gardner’s nudism and enthusiasm for sadomasochism, which he folded into the foundation of Wicca…

…to taking and embracing the label “witch” (and, to a lesser degree, “pagan”)…

…to taking unusual names and adopting radical environmental and social politics…

…to everything about Aleister Crowley…

…the roots and modern realities of modern Paganism are heavily sown with trangression: with deliberate contravention of societal norm.

It’s not a surprise. In the US, the modern Pagan movement arose simultaneously with and within the context of the countercultural movement of the 1960s, which was, well…counter-cultural.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But it could be an inherent impediment to Paganism ever becoming a widespread movement.

And it raises serious questions:

How much of this differentiation is legitimate throwing-off of repressive shackles, and how much just contrarianism?

And is it intrinsic to  Paganism that it be transgressive, norm-violating …weird?

Would it ever be possible for Paganism to be as widespread as, say, Catholicism? To be a major driver in our societies? How viable are we, as a social movement, for significant adoption?

Or are we—by definition and by necessity—minority outliers who must remain so?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I think they’re important to ponder.

Because it’s a big set of questions indeed.

The Last Pantheacon, and What’s Next

Pantheacon, the largest indoor gathering of Pagans in North America, is no more. For a variety of reasons, Glenn Turner, the organizer, has decided to close it down and is retiring.

I have been associated with PCon for a very long time. I attended the first one (I think), and have been to most of them over the 20-odd years it continued. It was a chance to see friends I didn’t see otherwise, to learn new things, meet new people, enjoy performances and generally to enjoy a majority-Pagan space for awhile, in stark contrast to the ordinary world.

In recent years, it has provided opportunities to present and share about Atheopaganism, to meet fellow Atheopagans, and to discuss our growing path.

The love was palpable. The parties were epic. (Many of) the rituals were powerful.

It was a good time.

This year was no exception. I enjoyed myself greatly, our round-table discussion on nontheist Paganism was packed, one of the rituals I led went terrifically (the other was kind of meh, to  be honest). I was glad to be there.

That said, Pantheacon had its problems. It was slow to respond to problems with bigotry and lack of safety on the part of oppressed minorities, and as a for-profit enterprise, it was not in any way transparent about its finances nor its decision making.

I have written before about how the Pagan community is changing. While there is a movement to have a new event in the same hotel and over the same weekend, but under new vision and management, next year, I believe that we have simply become too big for a single major event to accommodate us either in our diversity nor in our numbers.

I think and hope that smaller regional events will begin to connect Pagans from their local areas not only with one another, but with their land and biome. Certainly the experience of traveling long distances to get together with fellow Pagans does not bring us into closer encounter with the Earth.

Accordingly, I am organizing an event in June called Midsummer Dawn. Held in a group campground at a magnificent local state park, Sugarloaf Ridge, it will be an opportunity to get together with like-minded others, hike in magnificent country, enjoy one another’s company and conduct a couple of evening rituals.

Midsummer Dawn will be simple. It will have no workshops, nor vending spaces. It’s just a camping trip intentionally focused on Pagan folk, with some rituals to connect us with one another and with the land. While not the four-day rush of Pantheacon, I think it will take us into joyful places together.

It will certainly have a far smaller ecological footprint, and that counts for a lot in my book.

What I most loved about Pantheacon was seeing my friends, and making new ones. In California—because fire is such a danger in the summer—it is very difficult to create a large outdoor festival for Pagans, so we have to go small. I hope my friends and folks I don’t yet know will take a chance on a low-cost event like Midsummer Dawn.

In the meantime: thanks, Glenn. Thanks to all the many volunteers who made the event possible over all those years. Thanks to those who sought to keep it accountable to progressive Pagan values. Thanks to those who helped to create the many golden moments I will cherish from Pantheacon.